A Devotional from Central Presbyterian Church.Find another day here.
Monday, August 31, 2020
One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: 26 how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” 27 And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
Back in the days when it was normal to routinely visit other people in their homes, I would sometimes notice “house rules” either on the refrigerator or sometimes even croqueted, framed, and mounted on the wall. Perhaps you have seen them or even have your own somewhere. Most often the rules are fairly routine, common-sense type instructions like, “If you make a mess, clean it up. If you pull it out, put it back…etc.” But sometimes the rules are much more specific and even kind of humorous. I have seen a version of someone’s house rules that includes “We don’t light people on fire, not even pretend,” and “No fighting before Mom has coffee.” Now, if you were come to my home, you would not find a posted list of rules, but if you were to live with us for a little while, you would discover that we certainly have some of our own. In fact, you would probably not be surprised to hear that at times I can be rather inflexible about my own rules and have been known to get cranky when my unwritten expectations are violated. After several repeat offenses, we have had to spell out for the little people that live with us prohibitions against things like putting wet towels in the laundry hamper and hiding dirty socks under the couch cushions, but I also have preferred methods of doing pretty much everything. For me, there is only one proper way to load and unload the dishwasher, use the coffee maker, and even park the car in the driveway. Unfortunately my rigidity in these minor matters at times creates unnecessary tension because not everyone in my house sees things the way I do or does things as I would do them myself.
In a similar, though far more serious, vein, the Pharisees were extremely rigid in their interpretation surrounding the law of Moses. In commandment number four of the Ten Commandments given to Moses on Mt. Sinai, God commanded the observance of the Sabbath day on the seventh day of the week. The Sabbath was to be a day reserved for rest from labor and devoted to worship, modeled after the order of creation, where God created the universe in six days and then rested on the seventh. The Lord said that not even children, servants, foreigners, or livestock were to work on the Sabbath. Knowing the heart of man, and reminding them of their time as slaves under the cruel hand of the Egyptians, the Lord instituted the Sabbath as a reminder to His people that they were created primarily for worship, not solely for work. Many years later, well-intentioned rabbis attempted to define the term “work” by creating thirty-nine different categories of actions which they believed violated the fourth commandment, with six separate sub-categories under each one. Initially designed as a helpful guide for the people of God aid in proper worship, the rules of the Pharisees instead became a source of route obedience motivated by fear.
On one particular Sabbath, as Jesus and the disciples were passing through some grainfields, the disciples got hungry and, probably just out of instinct, grabbed a few heads of grain and began to eat them right then and there. Now, this would have made a pretty poor meal, but to an empty belly anything works. Of course, the Pharisees saw what they were doing and once again questioned Jesus, asking why they were breaking the law. According to their tradition, plucking a few heads of grain was “technically” harvesting, which was of course one of the categories of work. Unsurprised at their condescending query, Jesus shot them a question in response, “Haven’t you ever read about what David did when he was hungry?” Now this would have been an insulting question to the Pharisees because David was by far the greatest king of Israel and they were well aquatinted with his history. Jesus reminded them that when David and his men were on the run from Saul in 1 Samuel 21, even though it was technically “unlawful” for them to eat the bread the Presence, representing the twelve tribes of Israel, because they were starving Ahimelech the priest gave it with his blessing.
The Pharisees took no issue with David’s actions, and only because they were looking for ways to discredit the ministry of Jesus was this question even raised. Jesus knew that only under the most legalistic sense of the word could a hungry man picking grain to feed himself be understood as work. But more than that, Jesus let the Pharisees know that their entire understanding of the law and the Sabbath was completely backward. The Lord didn’t create man and woman in His own image so that He could have a bunch of people follow a large set of arbitrary rules and punish them when they were broken. Humans were created to worship God, but also, as Psalm 37:4 says, to “delight” in Him. The Sabbath was given so that God’s people would have time set aside each week to worship, remember, and enjoy the Lord their God. It wasn’t given as a weapon to attack the irreligious, but a respite from the arduous toil of life. The Sabbath was to protect people against their own propensity to work and work and never stop pursuing wealth and pleasure, not to prevent them from satiating their hunger or caring for the needs of others. Besides, an empty belly will take our mind off the Lord and inhibit our ability to enjoy and worship Him.
Sadly, many people view God like the Pharisees did, as an arbitrary taskmaster who lays down the law and cares about nothing else. But fortunately for us, God is not like the Pharisees and their exhausting legislation. He is not like me and my OCD tendencies and propensity to annoyance. The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. His desire is for us to glorify and enjoy Him forever, to find in Him all that our hungry hearts could ever long for. Through the sacrificial death of Jesus, God gives us grace when we least deserve it but most desperately need it. This is the gospel.
Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, we thank You that You are NOT like us. We can be impatient and unforgiving, quick-tempered and condescending, anxious and proud. You are everything that we are not and all that we long for. We thank You that Your rules are designed to protect us and guide us and help us to find true life in You. Forgive us for our sins help us to be gracious with those who sin against us, that we may help lead them to life. We ask this in Your holy name, Amen.